Repeating stories multiple times may be normal for some seniors who are active and lead fulfilling lives–a natural part of aging–but that was NOT normal for my quick-witted, sometimes sharp-tongued mother. It was just that small shift in her behavior that made me stop in my tracks more than once when having conversations with her that usually ended up in frustration for us both.
One afternoon in 2002 while she was babysitting my son for me, she called and asked if she could give my toddler a peanut butter cup. That’s when I had that awful sense of dread and my pulse quickened. My son has a high peanut allergy and she knew this. So began the slow spiral of watching my beautiful mom dwindle away to Alzheimer’s Disease–and watching the startling impact that it would have on my father as well.
Today, Mom resides in a skilled nursing facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Dad goes to see her almost every day. She has no memory (or at least any that make sense in her “babbling speak”) or ability to do anything for herself and requires 24-hour-care. She is at the end stages of Alzheimer’s.
The Search for the Right Fit
THE AUTHOR AND HER MOTHER
Getting Mom to her current “home” was not easy by any stretch, and I wonder how much worse it could have been had I not been a professional in Geriatric-Healthcare. I currently work in Michigan for the nation’s largest home health and hospice provider as a home health specialist, coordinating new patients and helping them transition home from a hospital or skilled nursing facility, and also by partnering with local physicians who recognize the need for medical home care for their patients.
I made the jump from advertising sales to a marketing and admissions director at a skilled nursing and rehab center while researching Alzheimer’s disease for my own family. One of my advertising clients was the marketing and admissions director in this facility, and I was constantly asking her for advice on what she thought we should be doing for my mom and dad based on her expertise. She was eventually promoted to executive director and ended up hiring me to fill the marketing position. (I’m sure that I was driving her nuts with questions!) I couldn’t get my hands on enough resources and I found my way into an industry that fit me perfectly, through the fear and emotions of watching what was happening to my own mom. I hoped that I could help guide others through my own experience.
The worst part about watching my parents unravel was also watching my dad’s health decline due to caregiver burnout. It is a real phenomenon and it was petrifying to watch. Dad’s goal was to hide Mom’s disease to everyone in the family (as if we didn’t see it) and their community to save her dignity and to hide his own fears.
One evening, they were at a local restaurant for dinner and Dad was so physically and mentally exhausted that he went into an almost catatonic state. Luckily, the restaurant owners knew my parents and their situation, called an ambulance, and contacted my brother. None of us three kids were in Cincinnati this particular evening. I was living in Michigan, my younger brother was living in Missouri, and my older brother who DID live in Cincinnati happened to be vacationing in Colorado.
So, sick to my stomach, I packed a bag and started the drive home to Cincinnati. Dad was admitted to the hospital and cousin Patty stayed with my mom until we could all get there.
My dad was in the hospital for four days and the main diagnosis on his chart was exhaustion! He has no recollection of those first few days but did make a full recovery. My brothers and I met at my parent’s house within the day and finally saw firsthand how bad it had become at home. Mom was totally dependent on Dad and was also living in a state of high anxiety. In talking with my dad in the hospital, we found out that Mom had also become violent with him because she didn’t know who this “strange man was” in their house. Finally, it was clear to Dad that keeping Mom at home was unsafe, and so began the process of finding an assisted living/memory care facility with 24-hour-care. One might think this was the easiest part for me, since I was already working in Geriatric-Healthcare, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
My parents still lived in Western Hills in Cincinnati, and my dad was set on putting her into a retirement village on that side of town. I didn’t think this was the best choice with Mom’s anxious and erratic behavior patterns, and met with their folks to discuss it. I asked them to please go to meet Mom at home and do a complete assessment on her, as I didn’t think that she would “fit” into their calm environment with her wandering and behaviors. They stated that an assessment wasn’t necessary, as they felt comfortable about effectively taking care of her. Dad was also insistent about this facility as he already knew some of the staff. Mom was admitted as a Private Pay Resident. Unfortunately, I was absolutely correct, and she was sent in and out of the hospital Geriatric-Psychiatric unit to “calm” her down. She was put on heavy psychotropic medications, and after the third hospital trip, the Retirement Village called my dad and stated that she could not return, as she was not appropriate for their setting and that she was basically too much to handle. Shocker, right? I was livid!
Here we were, right back where we started, with no prospects of what to do with her and facing a hospital discharge within 24 hours. Other facilities also declined to accept her.
MARIA’S MOM NOW
Finally, we found a facility who accepted Mom and she still resides there today. They have done a wonderful job! They have been so kind to my dad, as well. Living through the first part of this journey into Alzheimer’s with my mom and dad has had a huge impact on me. I have now made it my mission to help people find help and resources during these times of crisis.
LOVING CARE IN APPROPRIATE FACILITIES
[Maria (Martini) Deneau is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, the only daughter of four children born to Bernard and Evelyn Martini. She is a graduate of The University of Cincinnati and is currently employed by Kindred Healthcare–Kindred at Home in Southwest Michigan as a Home Health Specialist. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner, having worked in Geriatric healthcare since 2007. Maria is a National advocate for The Alzheimer’s Association, serving as Ambassador for the 6th Congressional District in Michigan and Washington D.C. She also serves as a Board Member for Fund Development at Senior Services of Kalamazoo County and as a Board Member for Professionals Focused on Aging in Kalamazoo, MI. She has been recognized by the Ohio State Senate for Outstanding Achievement and exemplary service to the community and its youth while living in Cincinnati, Ohio.]